My child/teen/adult with DS can’t read yet…is it too late?

Blair Reads

Learning to read at 33

No, it’s not too late.  My oldest “starting student” with Down syndrome was 33 and legally blind. He is learning to read.

This is not a one-off; it can be done.

Let’s hear it from Sue Buckley, researcher/educator/founder of Down Syndrome Education International in the UK:

“It is always too early to say that children, young people, or adults cannot learn to read…Children with Down syndrome can ‘take off’ with reading at any age…Almost all children with Down syndrome are capable of reaching a level of reading achievement that will be functionally useful if we, their parents and teachers, believe that this is possible and steadily help them to progress.”

Why hasn’t reading happened?

Great next question. So let’s ask: what’s been missing? What’s been interfering? Why hasn’t s/he learned by now?

Choose one! (or more)

  • Ineffective reading program not geared to learning strengths (strong visual learners)
  • Ineffective reading program that triggers learning deficits (short term auditory memory, etc.)
  • Boring reading material
  • Reading material not age-appropriate
  • Teacher who doesn’t understand how our learners with DS most easily learn
  • Teacher who hasn’t read my book “Whole Child Reading” (LOL!)

So that’s the short list. There’s a longer list, but this one can get you started.

Any of those elements can interfere with reading success…not to mention undiagnosed secondary issues: autism, ADHD, undiagnosed vision problems, etc.

The unvarnished truth

Here it is: reading success rarely happens Monday through Friday in the classroom alone. Teachers can’t do this without parent support and involvement. Learning to read is a daily journey. Repetition is KEY.

In an ideal world, both parents and teachers are working together on this, using different materials in each venue so that boredom doesn’t kick in and knock down the castle everyone is working so hard to build. Notice I didn’t say “different methods.” Find a method that works for that particular child and stick with it.

If one method isn’t working, find something else. Don’t be an example of Einstein’s definition of insanity which was, “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If it ain’t worked for the past year, it ain’t gonna work tomorrow.

Shuffle your deck of cards

Stick to one reading method that works, but use fresh materials regularly; in my workshops, I show a slide of shuffling a deck of cards. That should be our concept when we think of materials to teach reading. Use different material, varied material, in a high-interest mix that engages. Shuffle those together. If we bore ’em, we lose ’em.

Never say never

It’s really, truly, never too late. In my book “Whole Child Reading,” I devote an entire chapter to older non-readers. We can do this.




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  • Andrea Bartosch

    Do you think we must get the ADHD symptoms under control before we start your program? I think that is what is holding back my 10yo, but we have tried several medicines with little to no success.

    • Natalie Hale

      Hi, Andrea- Short answer: Start the program.Long answer: I’ve lived through your scenario. My son (now 34) was hyperactive from age 3. I taught him to read starting at 4 & 1/2. By 8, he was an independent reader. Here’s the important part: those few years were the most extreme of his ADHD behavior. He learned to read in spite of that. By age 7, his behavior was so out of control that we took him in to Cincinnati’s DS clinic at Children’s Hospital for eval. “Very severe ADHD” was the diagnosis. Drugs failed him, as they did your son. Ritalin increased his hyperactive behavior tenfold. (Nightmare) We eventually had to search out natural means of calming the ADHD beast. But in the meantime, during the worst years, he learned to read like a champ.You and I know that, despite ADHD, our kids are capable of intense, prolonged concentration IF they are wildly interested in something. If you read my “Whole Child Reading” book (which comes with all my reading bundles), you’ll know how to engage him and get him started on the road to success. Good luck!